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Nat Mater. 2011 Jan;10(1):61-6. doi: 10.1038/nmat2903. Epub 2010 Dec 5.

Mechanics and contraction dynamics of single platelets and implications for clot stiffening.

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Department of Bioengineering, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA.


Platelets interact with fibrin polymers to form blood clots at sites of vascular injury. Bulk studies have shown clots to be active materials, with platelet contraction driving the retraction and stiffening of clots. However, neither the dynamics of single-platelet contraction nor the strength and elasticity of individual platelets, both of which are important for understanding clot material properties, have been directly measured. Here we use atomic force microscopy to measure the mechanics and dynamics of single platelets. We find that platelets contract nearly instantaneously when activated by contact with fibrinogen and complete contraction within 15 min. Individual platelets can generate an average maximum contractile force of 29 nN and form adhesions stronger than 70 nN. Our measurements show that when exposed to stiffer microenvironments, platelets generated higher stall forces, which indicates that platelets may be able to contract heterogeneous clots more uniformly. The high elasticity of individual platelets, measured to be 10 kPa after contraction, combined with their high contractile forces, indicates that clots may be stiffened through direct reinforcement by platelets as well as by strain stiffening of fibrin under tension due to platelet contraction. These results show how the mechanosensitivity and mechanics of single cells can be used to dynamically alter the material properties of physiologic systems.

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